Broken glass like stars

photo by Casey Holford I went to sleep last night clutching Ann Beattie's new book of short stories (The State We're In), with the sound of fireworks popping loudly outside the window behind my bed. When I woke up I finished the first story, "What Magical Realism Would Be." It wasn't bad. On the surface, it's about a "troubled" teenager who's trying to write a story for a summer school program, and the girl has to include elements of magical realism, which she thinks is stupid. (I've never especially cared for magical realism myself.) What the story is really about is how strange life can be, even without any added fictional weirdness. I reflected on the story over my morning coffee and realized that this, actually, is what I like best about short fiction, as opposed to novels, which so often seem to me to be weighed down with unnecessary detail and "story." With a shorter piece, every descriptive word matters. Something about providing just a few vivid details--like a loud storm of broken glass that rains down after some teenagers throw tons of beer bottles out the window of their moving car, which is the scene that ends this particular story--and necessarily leaving out a lot of the more mundane stuff due to the form's shorter length, serves to highlight how eerie, surprising, or odd life can seem. And as a way of looking at things, this makes sense to me. I enjoy the quieter domestic details of a Tessa Hadley novel too, but sometimes what I want is a piece of fiction that really crackles with life, and wastes no time in getting to the good stuff--the broken glass glittering like stars in an upside-down night sky--the beauty that's everywhere around us, if you let yourself look at it the right way.